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8 Sep 2023

Learning to save yourself: Sistas of Steel take on challenge of defending themselves and their families

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September 8, 2023 Category: Local Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: From left; Carrena Bush, NiShawn Wright, and Adrienne Goines.

By Joseph P. Blake

Among the many questions asked of those seeking to join Sistas of Steel (SOS), a Black female-only gun club based in Knoxville, Tennessee, is a simple one: “Why are you here?”

The answers range from wanting to learn how to safely use a firearm, to protecting themselves and their family, and gaining enough confidence to actually use it if needed, said Adrienne Goines, founder and president of the organization.

“Some also mention issues of domestic abuse, a past violent encounter, or feeling more secure as a single woman,” added Goines, a smart, savvy and engaging mother of two who is also a licensed firearms instructor.

Potential members receive Zoom interviews before they join, Goines said, and it’s explained to them that joining SOS is unlike most sororities or social organizations.  SOS is as much about empowering women by providing options and knowledge that could literally save their lives, as it is the proper technique for aiming and shooting.  

“We explain that we do everything legally,” she said.  “We learn about local and national laws regarding carrying weapons, and what it means to ‘stand your ground’.”

With the recent targeted killing of three Black people inside a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Fla., and other mass killings over the past several years that have also targeted Black people, the mood of the country itself has become another reason some offer for joining SOS or similar groups.

“Nobody’s coming to save us,” said Lakesha Brinson, a member of SOS.  “We have to save ourselves.”

All the women are also required to join the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA) that was founded in 2015 and hosted its first conference this past July in Atlanta, Ga.

Phil Smith-Founder of NAAGA

NAAGA founder and president, Phil Smith said during an interview at the conference, that the organization is “growing quickly and getting people from all walks of life.  We (Black people) have a place we can call our own… that has our voice, our perspective.” 

The conference drew approximately 2,000 people, and its membership is now in the neighborhood of 50,000, Smith said.  NAAGA also has its own online magazine— “Sharpshooter”— a slick, glossy periodical that speaks directly to its membership on matters ranging from gun safety, to carrying safely and being aware of gun laws in every state.

 In Knoxville, several women from SOS came together to practice at a local shooting range the day after a self-professed “hater” of Black people carried out his deadly rampage in Jacksonville, killing three people for no reason other than the color of their skin.

NiShawn Wright loading her Glock at the range.

The SOS members all had on T-shirts that prominently displayed the group’s logo. The group also stood out because they were the only Black women amidst more than a dozen white men who were practicing with everything from hybrid AR-15’s to handguns like Glocks and Sig Sauers. 

Goines, who uses the range regularly to train her members, moved easily among the other white firearms instructors and all-white staff who were accommodating and professional.

“They’re used to us coming,” Goines said. “At first, people would stare and wonder where we came from, but now, it’s no big deal.”

At the same time, and less than an hour’s drive away, literally hundreds of white people were cruising the streets of Pigeon Forge, Tenn. in custom Jeeps and Broncos, most of which had the American flag waving from the back, or on top of vehicles that also sported a number of Q-Anon insignia and Trump-supporting flags and banners. 

Adrienne Goines assisting Patrice.

Though the main tourist attractions in the area are the popular amusement park Dollywood and The Great Smokey National Park, many seemed content to simply sit in lawn chairs on the sidewalks drinking beer and observing (and sometimes cheering) the impromptu parade of tricked out vehicles with flags. 

At the shooting range, NiShawn Wright somberly caught up on the recent Jacksonville story and sadly shook her head from side-to-side.

“Things are different now,” she said. “This (shooting) is so sad. . . and unnecessary.  Why?”

Wright then picked up her Glock .45 and went to take her turn at the firing range.  

On this day, all her shots landed in the killing range of the target. For more information about SOS, visit:

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